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280                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
had happened to him. He was injured in the head by the
wing of a German plane! He was now in the corps hos-
pital, although he was expecting to be discharged within
a day or two. And this incredible thing had happened in
the following way. After the German Sixth Army had
been cut off at Stalingrad, the Tank Corps in which
Gvozdev served pierced the front of the retreating Ger-
mans and went through the breach across the steppe into
the enemy's rear. Gvozdev was in command of a tank
battalion in that raid.
It was a lovely raid! The steel armada charged into
the Germans' rear, fortified villages and railway junctions,
bursting in upon them like a bolt from the blue. The
tanks charged through the streets, shooting down and
crushing the troops that came in their way, and when the
remnants of the German garrisons had fled, the tanks and
the motorised infantry, whom they carried on their ar-
mour, blew up ammunition dumps and bridges, railway
switches and turn-tables, thus blocking the trains of the
retreating Germans. They refuelled and took in stocks of
provisions from captured enemy stores and continued
their advance before the Germans could recover, or at
least find out in what direction the tanks would move
"We sped across the steppe, Alyosha, like Budyonny's
cavalry! And did we put the wind up those fascists! You
wouldn't believe it, but sometimes, with three tanks and
a captured armoured car, we took whole villages and
store bases. In war, Alyosha, panic is a great thing. A
good panic among the enemy is worth two full-blooded
divisions to the attacking force. Only it must be skilfully
sustained, like a camp-fire; fuel—unexpected blows—must
be constantly added to prevent it from dying out. We
pierced the German armour and found that there is noth-
ing underneath it except stinking tripe. We went through
them as easy as cutting cheese.
"... And this is how this silly thing happened to me.
The chief called us together and told us that a scouting
plane had dropped him a message to the effect that at
such and such a place there was a big air base: about
three hundred planes, fuel and supplies. He pulled at his
ginger moustache an$ said: 'Gvozdev, go out to that air-